October 06, 2004

Four Wyden Provisions Strengthen Final SenateIntelligence Reform Bill

Senate approves Intelligence reform legislation including key classification measure, data-mining oversight and provisions for airline passenger rights and safety

WASHINGTON, D.C. Intelligence reform legislation approved by the Senate today includes four key amendments offered by U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Wyden, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, worked on a bipartisan basis to win approval of significant reforms to the intelligence classification system, oversight on data-mining of Americans personal information in Federal agencies, and two significant consumer protection provisions related to airline safety and passenger rights.The Senates overhaul of Americas intelligence system now includes some critical provisions showing that you can preserve national security while safeguarding individuals civil liberties, said Wyden. These amendments help this legislation strike a proper balance pursuing terrorists aggressively on the intelligence front, while protecting Americans rights to information, privacy and safety at the same time.Wyden was successful in including a bipartisan amendment that would name an Independent National Security Classification Board to reexamine classifications decisions at the request of Congress. The provision would also give Congress a role in the development of the National Intelligence Directors new classification guidelines and standards. The amendment would, for the first time, give Congress an independent, standing body to which it can appeal a national security classification decision.Too much information is kept from the public and their representatives for political reasons, stated Wyden. This amendment makes sure the public retains the right to information affecting their own safety while legitimate national security interests are protected.Also included in the legislation approved by the Senate today is a key Wyden measure that would require the National Intelligence Director to provide to Congress a detailed report explaining the use of databases for law enforcement or intelligence purposes. Currently, there are no comprehensive privacy laws regulating the federal governments access to, or use of, public and private databases. Wyden, who successfully stopped the implementation of a massive data-mining program called Total Information Awareness in 2003, has led the fight in the Senate to protect Americans personal information from unfair searches, while promoting the use of technology as a powerful weapon against terror.Wyden was also successful in including two key airline passenger rights and safety measures in the intelligence reform bill:Airline passengers holding tickets on bankrupt airlines would continue to be able to trade in those tickets for flights on other airlines. This amendment would provide a one-year extension of the consumer protection provision, which was first enacted in the fall of 2001 and is due to expire November 19. Under the amendment, airline passengers holding a ticket on an airline that ceases operations due to financial insolvency would be able to use their tickets on another airline offering flights on the same routes on a space-available basis. The Department of Transportation has ruled that under this trade-in policy, the second airline may charge no more than a $50 administration fee to process the roundtrip ticket change.Butane lighters would be banned from the passenger cabins of commercial aircraft under an amendment offered by Wyden and Senator Byron Dorgan (D-S.D.). Specifically, the provision would direct the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to ban the lighters from passenger flights. Wyden has pushed to have the lighters banned for nearly a year. In October 2003, he wrote Admiral James Loy, then head of the TSA, to urge a review and reversal of the policy that allowed the lighters in the cabins of passenger aircraft. However, since that time, the TSA has refused to ban the items from being banned, and todays legislation closes this major security gap.I am pleased that the Senate has included these two common-sense measures to protect American airline passengers and consumers, said Wyden. Ensuring the safety of our skies and the health of a major sector of our economy are both important priorities and a key part of strengthening our nations security.The Senate passed the National Intelligence Reform Act today 96-2. The House of Representatives is currently considering a different version of the legislation. Once passed, differences between two versions will be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee.